From Alice Springs I headed, in company with a largely Australian group of campers, into the delightful wilderness of the center, where we hiked, camped, and explored.
We drove to a spot about two miles from the head of Kings Canyon. Undulating, scalloped stone walls fell from the plateau above like a great, ragged, red furbelow. Hugh led us up one of the steep, broken stone pleats. A 700-foot climb brought us to the top of the canyon wall, where the scene before us was wonderful, but almost too strange to describe. Surrounding us were bizarre domes, shelves, steps, and sculptures of layered, fractured, red rock. A sea of what looked like giant, worn, red beehives, four feet to 20 feet tall, stretched into the distance.
Crossing this remarkable terrain, we wound between humps and mounds, clambered up and down broken stone slabs, and crawled through a long, low cave. We explored the area known as the Lost City, which, with its domes, spires, and terraces of red rock, does look like the half-buried ruins of some Eastern citadel.
On cliffs and in crevices grew lone ghost gums, graceful trees with chalk-white trunks and slender, pale, olive leaves. Twisted, weather-blasted cypress trees clung with gnarled roots to splintered shelves and inclines of rock, and ancient, feathery cycads grew lushly in the shadows and valleys. The cycads here are the rare Macrozamia macdonnellii, which may have grown in this area for as long as 200 million years. In places where the terrain was flat, the ground was dotted with the wonderful, round, golden “pillows” of spinifex grass. The leaves of spinifex are tender and green when young, but as they mature they roll up into pale “needles,” which one quickly learns to avoid. But I love the look of them—like herds of huge, golden hedgehogs.
We hiked on through the weird, inspiring, rust-colored landscape. Near Aladdin’s Lamp, a four-foot-long rock sculpture balancing a few feet above our heads, we came to a rather scary but safe (we were assured), narrow bridge of flat sandstone slabs wired to tree branches, which had been dropped across a 90-foot-deep crevice. Only a few people were so daring as to stop in the middle of the bridge to pose for photographs.
On the other side of the crevice, we continued on till we reached the impressive, precipitous North Wall of Kings Canyon. At the canyon’s edge, Hugh climbed a rise, then strode out onto a thin, rock shelf projecting into space. Quickly, others followed, to enjoy the unexcelled view of the canyon below and the land we had just traversed.